I’ve been sat on a bus for what feels like an eternity as we make our way into Brighton, past vivid colourful bedding plant displays at the park edges and, as sunshine floods through the window, I spot the sea and excitement builds. I’m a child, it’s the summer holidays and my grandparents have treated my brother and me to a day trip at the coast. We’re going to play on the arcades on the pier and have ice creams.
As I get older, hitting 16 and discovering an alternative music scene, Brighton becomes more than just arcade games and fun on the beach. It plays a pivotal role as I explore the wares in Rag Freak, purchasing my first band hoodie (Californian hardcore punk outfit Amen) and ridiculously oversized a-line jeans. It’s a moment in growing up and choosing a path of open mindedness and over the years that open mindedness, the laid back attitudes, quirks and eccentricities of the coastal city have made it a home from home, a place where I feel comfortable being and long to get back to. Now though, as I’m fast approaching thirty, Brighton has become a place to indulge my passion for great beer and in doing so continues to play an important role.
Sunshine floods through the window,but there’s no din and rumble of the diesel engine of my nostalgia trip. No, I’m not on a bus this time, but I am sat in Brighton, in The Craft Beer Co pub, just a stones throw from where that bus of my childhood dropped us off and picked us up. This pub is another place in which I feel comfortable being and was where I first discovered Camden Town Brewery (Ink), Brewdog’s immense collaboration Black Tokyo Horizon and just how varied the new wave of British artisan beer was becoming, although it was still another year or so before I started to fully appreciate both of these breweries and the New Wave scene -Brighton again playing a role as I discover the vast array of artisan beers in Trafalgar Wines.
This is a city of passion, excitement, experimental innovation, yet it’s still laid back. The moniker London-By-The-Sea has been attached to this place but it doesn’t shout quite so loud as London, allowing it to nestle with ease among the rest of the more trad Sussex county.
So what does this mean for beer? It means that if you’re looking for trad Sussex cask, you’ll find it. If you’re after creative new wave Sussex beers, you’ll find them. If you’ve a taste for Belgian or U.S brews, you’ll be in luck, or if you just fancy the taste of London with a sea view thrown in, you can have that too. Put simply, Brighton is a beer hub for the Sussex drinker. So here I am, accompanying my contemplation with half an Orange Boom by Siren and taking in my surroundings; a wonderful easy natured mix of the old and the new; some of the very best craft beers, nods to the heritage of British brewing adorn the walls, Belgian Trappist glassware placed on each table with a tealight nestled within.
There’s a little bit of everything to be found at Craft Beer Co and coupled with the easy natured vibes and polite, knowledgeable staff it’d be easy to stay, but I move on and make my way into the maze-like Lanes that are tucked away behind the view of the beach front. I walk past the buses, down the steps to the left of the main shopping centre, past the building that formerly housed Rag Freak and briefly reminisce when the days of visiting Brighton were purely to buy band merch and baggy jeans inadvertently perfumed by incense.
Rounding a few corners and I find myself in front of one of the newer additions to the Brighton pub scene; Seven Stars.
The pub front is a fresh, lush green, luring people in from all walks of life with it’s easy-going aesthetic which combines friendly contemporary graphics with a traditional flare. It somehow feels familiar. The long bar to the right consists a medley of cask ale, artisan keg and bottles. The bottled and keg beers provide a decent, balanced selection of Sussex breweries and those from further afield such as Beavertown, Camden and Wild Beer Co whilst all cask ale is from Sussex with Firebird leading the pack in terms of range on offer, in fact it’s Firebird tanks that you’ll first see on walking through the door.
Street art inspired murals adorn the walls. The interior decor is completed by tiled flooring, mismatched lighting, chunky wooden tables, pipework and other exposed bits of metal. It’s on trend but these elements combined with the beer options mingle to inspire a familiarity I only associate with drinking in Brighton.
It’s an Indigo pub, a Brighton specific pub chain which seems to be going from strength to strength. The company excel at creating individualistic pubs, each with their own unique selling points, each focusing on Sussex beer promotion alongside popular ‘craft’ beers from outside the region, many with a kitchen run by local street food producers and each completely devoid of Indigo branding. The pubs are never identikit but you can always tell when you’re drinking in Indigo and that’s no bad thing.
I think about heading toward the prom, go for a stroll, maybe play those 2p machines like I used to in my childhood or sit overlooking the beach with a bag of fresh doughnuts and a hot chocolate just as I did in my early twenties when I’d wait for my mates to party the last of the club vibes out of their systems at 3am in the morning. I can almost smell those sugary fried doughnuts now, but I’m not in the mood to be attacked by seagulls so I turn my back on the prospect of crashing waves and sweet treats, heading north instead, into the North Laines and to the North Laine Brewhouse.
I last visited the North Laine Brewhouse back in October for a Meet the Brewer evening, something the pub were running as a regular Monday evening event alongside local guest breweries. There’s a lot to like about this area of Brighton; the flea markets, the independent shops, the cafés, tattoo studios; there’s a lot to see and hidden gems to find and the North Laines Brewhouse is one of the more prominent gems among them.
The space seems vast when compared to other pubs in the area, a large, airy building that has the capacity to welcome families and large groups. It’s one of the best spaces in Brighton for large parties of people to gather and that’s why it always makes its way on to the itinerary when I find myself out beer hunting with friends. Of course there’s more to this pub than just beer and they’ve an extensive menu of both food and drink but it’s the beer that drives this place, so much so that all the cask beer is brewed in-house. And that’s the main draw for me. The pub is a part of the Laines group, a chain of four brew pubs each producing their own ranges of beers, predominantly only available in-house.
The North Laines brew kit stands prominently above and behind the long bar, a space that seems narrow but efficiently brews three times a week with Head Brewer Nic Donald at the helm. Porter and Pale are the regular brews with specials being brewed on a monthly basis. A recent favourite of mine being Deadwood, a bourbon brown ale that’s full of smokey notes with a sweetness running through together with burnt caramel and oak.
The pub has also teamed up with local brewery Brighton Bier to promote the beer scene within the city. With that in mind I could opt to hike back up toward Brighton Bier’s award-winning joint venture with Penge outfit Late Knights Brewery; The Brighton Beer Dispensary and see what they’re promoting, but it would’ve been more wise to swing by after the trip to Craft Beer Co. The thought of pairing a pint of South Coast IPA with some battered gherkins or even checking out any new specials from the local brewery is a very tempting one though.
Stepping out of the North Laines Brewhouse, heading north along St Georges Place, a two minute walk and a left turn onto Trafalgar Street sees me outside of The Great Eastern, a traditional pub with character by the bucketful. Stepping in off the street, the narrow nature of the building would see me almost at the bar as soon as I’m through the door. I like to sit at the bar on one of the well worn wooden stools and let the collection of assorted curios and pump clips catch my eye. From memory the cask selection will be Sussex-centric with options from the likes of Franklins and Downlands. The fridge will house bottles of Wild Beer Co, Beavertown, Summer Wine and many more. The American whiskey collection will also tempt.
I look ahead, up the sloping Trafalgar Street and I know that at the top of the hilly road The Prince Albert stands with its famous painted mural outer wall, its series of unique drinking rooms, its near guarantee of a pint of Burning Sky beer from cask or keg and its old-school almost kitsch 60’s rock vibe. Many a great drinking session has been spent in The Prince Albert.
I also know that sitting half way between these two great pubs is the great Trafalgar Wines where I can browse the shelves like I did when I first started to discover the likes of Beavertown, The Kernel and Camden Town Brewery. I could discover more new beers and breweries and learn that my self restraint hasn’t got any better.
Instead I choose to wander on and see if there are any new places to discover and new memories to make. Whilst I do, I look around, I take a moment and I realise that Brighton means many different things to many different people and amid this it has also found its way to being the heart, soul and vibrant capital of the Sussex beer scene.